Children of a Lesser God Summary

Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Set in a state school for the deaf, Children of a Lesser God depicts several key issues facing the hearing-impaired community. It proclaims the right of deaf individuals to determine their own role in society. James Leeds, a new speech teacher, is assigned to Sarah Norman, a twenty-six-year-old deaf woman who prefers to communicate exclusively in American Sign Language (ASL). She informs James that it is a waste of time trying to force deaf people to speak and read lips so that the deaf can pass for hearing. When James counters that ASL is only good among the deaf, Sarah accuses him of wanting to be God, wanting to make her over in his own image. Deaf students do not want to be changed simply because hearing teachers want to change them. Sarah confides that she dreams of becoming a teacher for the deaf and having deaf children. They eventually realize that they want to communicate with each other no matter what the language and decide to get married. Orin, a hearing-impaired student, tries to convince Sarah that their marriage cannot work. The schoolmaster tries to convince James that the marriage is unwise. While arguing, James catches himself trying to censor the conversation for Sarah and realizes that he has no right to decide what she can or cannot “hear.”

They are married and Sarah begins to enjoy life with her hearing husband, but Orin urges her not to turn her back on the deaf, arguing that “deaf rights” are more important than...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Children of a Lesser God Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

James Leeds, a new speech teacher at a state school for the deaf, is working with Orin Dennis to improve his ability to pronounce English. The superintendent, Mr. Franklin, introduces James to Sarah Norman, a twenty-six-year-old deaf woman who does not read lips or use speech, preferring to communicate exclusively in American Sign Language(ASL). Even though James’s charm intrigues her, she informs him, with deliberate rudeness, that speech therapy is a waste of time. Sarah’s hearing mother, Mrs. Norman, chides James for trying to get Sarah to speak and read lips so that she can pass for a hearing person. James responds that he is only trying to help Sarah function in the hearing world.

In his next meeting with her, James tries reaching Sarah with humor. When she is not amused, James apologizes for using hearing idioms and promises to remember that she is deaf. She is skeptical but accepts his offer to go out for Italian food. In the restaurant James asks Sarah why she does not want speech therapy. She responds that ASL is just as good as English, but James counters that ASL is good only among the deaf. Sarah accuses him of wanting to be God, making her over in his own image. The next day, James discovers that Orin knows everything about his date with Sarah. Orin complains that deaf students do not want to be changed simply because hearing teachers want to change them. Orin vows that someday he will change the deaf education system.

Sarah and James are becoming attracted to each other. When Lydia, a teenage student, tries to join them by the duck pond, Sarah chases her away. James is oblivious to Lydia’s infatuation with him. After Sarah leaves, Mr. Franklin appears from behind the trees and warns James that having sex with a student will lead to dismissal. James learns from Mrs. Norman that Sarah stopped trying to speak because she believes people will think she is retarded. James nevertheless tries again to convince Sarah to use her voice. Sarah retorts that the only successful “communication” she ever has with hearing boys is in bed. James realizes that he wants to communicate with...

(The entire section is 866 words.)

Children of a Lesser God Summary

Act I Summary

The primary action of Children of a Lesser God takes place inside the mind of James Leeds. Time is not linear during the play, and...

(The entire section is 216 words.)

Act II Summary

The second act begins with a bridge party at the newlyweds' home, attended by Franklin, James's supervising teacher, and Mrs. Norman. Sarah...

(The entire section is 366 words.)